El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini has been having problems with the U.S. Forest Service since he took office more than two years ago — and now is stripping it of its state law enforcement power in the county and the Eldorado National Forest.
“I have a folder an inch thick of e-mail and snail mail,” D’Agostini said, all complaints about the Forest Service. He estimates about 50 complaints total. They were all “complaints about services from the Forest Service. Or, I should say, lack thereof.”
Numerous attempts were made to fix the problems, including field training for one of the officers to try to make the officer successful at the job. “They just weren’t getting it,” D’Agostini said. Service, when it was to be had, was sub-par.
Then, last year, the Sheriff received a call from Cal Fire. It was been investigating fires on USFS land and requested law enforcement and investigator assistance. They received none, citing lack of resources. “Why did the Forest Service not have resources?” D’Agostini asked rhetorically. He was then told by the USFS to tell Cal Fire not to investigate on private land.
Instead, he told the USFS that it “can’t have their cake and eat it too. They can’t have the authority, but when needed, not do that part of the job.”
He looked at the Memorandum of Understanding between EDSO and the USFS, looked into case law and the state Attorney General’s opinions.
The Sheriff sent the USFS a letter on June 22, giving USFS officials a 30-day notice before they are stripped of their law enforcement power.
“California Penal Code Section 830.8(a) limits the authority of Forest Service criminal investigators and law enforcement officers to exercise the powers of arrest of a California peace officer and to enforce California statutes without the written consent of the Sheriff or Chief of Police in whose jurisdiction they are assigned,” D’Agostini’s letter read. “I am terminating the agreement and giving 30 days written notice as required. Effective Monday, July 22, 2013, the cooperative agreement will no longer exist.” It goes on to say that the law enforcement officials of the USFS no longer have his consent or authorization to enforce state laws in the county, nor will EDSO accept evidence submitted by them.
“They can’t enforce state law,” D’Agostini said. That includes vehicle and penal codes, on both private and federal land. They can, however, enforce federal laws.
This is “not going to have an effect at all” on response times, he said. When someone in the forest calls 911, it already goes to EDSO dispatch. If the USFS “hears the cross traffic” over the radio, officials were welcome to respond, he said. But, they rarely did.
He cited two recent examples within the past few weeks. A Fish and Game warden was lost near Immigrant Trail and EDSO responded, the Sheriff said. The Forest Service did not. When a recent marijuana grow was discovered, the teams led by EDSO invited the USFS law enforcement to join them for the raid, which resulted in an arrest. The USFS “didn’t show.”
“We’ll do our job, and do it well,” D’Agostini said. “We’ll provide the same level of attention to detail” they always have, he said. The only change to law enforcement in the National Forest will be making it a “much more pleasant place to enjoy,” he said.
Forest Service Special Agent in Charge Scott Harris told the Mountain Democrat, “We have received the letter and are in the process of reviewing it. We have a meeting scheduled with the El Dorado County sheriff on Wednesday to consider our options for resolving this issue.”
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.